Darth Vader has just confronted Luke Skywalker on Cloud City. But his attempts to seduce the boy to the dark side failed, and Luke has since disappeared. If Vader is to find his son, he needs to return to the beginning—and find the people who hid Luke from him.
Darth Vader #1
Joe Caramagna (Letters), Raffaele Ienco (Artist), Neeraj Menon (Colours), Greg Pak (Writer)
5 February, 2020
I am a sucker for Star Wars comics that tie into the prequel trilogy. After years of listening to people deride those films—which I had loved—it’s great to see them being brought back into the fold. Darth Vader #1 does just that—though set directly after the events of The Empire Strikes Back, the story harkens back to Anakin Skywalker’s life on Tatooine, his subsequent return to save his mother, and his life with Senator Padmé Amidala Naberrie on Coruscant.
The flashbacks were more than welcome; the tragedy of Darth Vader has always been that he was once a promising, and loving, Jedi who was failed by so many around him. His eventual fall to the Dark Side was the most riveting aspect of the prequel trilogy, and the effects of that are explored in this book. As senior editor Mark Paniccia notes at the end of this issue, despite all that we know of Darth Vader’s life and death, there are still plenty of gaps to fill in.
The original trilogy was focused on the central trio, which gives modern writers plenty of room to explore what Darth Vader was up to while the spotlight was away from him. Turns out it’s mostly killing people—which shouldn’t come as a surprise. He is the Dark Lord of the Sith, after all. And having failed to turn Luke, he needs to bust some heads. One thing is for sure, the body count in this series is going to be high.
What I absolutely loved about Darth Vader #1 was how it highlighted the one skill of Anakin’s that had nothing to do with the Force, and that had brought him so much joy before the Jedi were ever a reality for him—his love of tinkering with machinery. Though he doesn’t create a droid from scratch in this book, Darth Vader does reprogram an Imperial droid—Z-67—to assist him. In fact, it is Z-67’s voice that we hear the most in this book, as Darth Vader barely speaks. He spends most of his time thinking about Luke and how to find him.
I’m intrigued by Z-67’s presence in this story. Yes, it’s a convenient way to tell the readers the story and to fill in the gaps, without having to resort to more flashbacks than are necessary. But there’s more to Z-67 being here—Darth Vader could have completed this mission to find Luke himself. Z-67 may be portable and his ability to access archives on the go is helpful, but an R2 unit could do the same, and would talk as much. Did Darth Vader really need such a sophisticated droid for such a mission? Did he want the company, perhaps?
Darth Vader’s life must be a lonely one. His sole companion is Emperor Palpatine, and everyone else is terrified of them—not exactly the best platform to launch a friendship from. I do hope the series explores this aspect of Darth Vader’s life and his relationship with Z-67. I find it fascinating that Darth Vader explores the inner life of the character; one would expect that there would be more action and death in this story, and I’m glad that the focus of the book is on the interior workings of the character more than anything else.
The art by Raffaele Ienco is gorgeous—there is so much depth and detail in each panel that it feels almost cinematic. I did feel the characters looked a little too different from their on-screen counterparts; I had a hard time distinguishing certain characters in the book. But it’s stunning art, nonetheless. Despite the largely Imperial setting, Neeraj Menon’s colours are vivid and textured. You can almost feel the heat radiating from a fire partway through the story.
Lettering often gets left on the sidelines but it plays an important role in this book; for example, the Deathtroopers have a particular speech pattern that is conveyed through distorted lettering. Though we don’t know what they’re saying, we feel the impact of their spoken words. How letterer Joe Caramagna managed to invoke the white noise of their speech is beyond me. But it was brilliantly done.
As an opening chapter in a new story, Darth Vader #1 definitely works and has me excited to read more. But that ending—which Greg Pak had asked readers not to spoil on Twitter—is the clincher. It’s so unexpected and makes me wonder what it means in the larger scheme of the Star Wars universe. Can’t wait to find out more next time.